The Zimbabwean government has been urged to fix the country’s unstable exchange rate, which has rendered the local currency ‘worthless’ so that it pays health workers a decent wage as efforts to retain their services locally.
This call comes after Zimbabwean health care workers seeking employment in South Africa were rejected after the South African government noted Zimbabwe’s health sector was facing a staff shortage due to migration.
South Africa said it was obliged to adhere to “all the relevant protocols” between members states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union and the World Health Organisation (WHO) where it prevents “the uncontrolled recruitment of health professionals from countries where the public health system is faced with huge staff shortages, particularly with regard to health professional occupations.”
Zimbabwe was listed in the category of countries that South Africa’s Department of Health should not recruit from.
This move has disappointed Zimbabwean health care workers who are now caught between a rock and hard place.
Chairman of the Zimbabwean Community in South Africa, Ngqabutho Nicholas Mabhena told CITE it was time for the Zimbabwean government to start paying its workers well and prevent them from leaving the country where they also faced difficulties.
“South Africa rejected health care workers on the basis of the SADC protocol, which says member states should not recruit from countries where there is a shortage of staff but we have always said Zimbabwe must remunerate workers adequately to make sure they stay there,” he said.
Mabhena noted it was time for Zimbabwe to resolve its currency issues and adopt the South African Rand as a currency of reference.
“A person who works in Zimbabwe must earn almost similar to a person who works in South Africa. We think this might be a first step in addressing the problem because at the centre of this crisis, which must be undertaken as a whole, is the question of currency. The currency question is a major crisis,” he said.
“We continue to make a call that Zimbabwe must adopt the Rand as a currency of reference, if it is to keep its workers in Zimbabwe.”
The migrant leader said a balance was needed to cater for ‘desperate’ health care workers while adhering to SADC protocols.
“What is needed is to try and balance the two. On one hand you have a SADC protocol which says member states should not recruit medical workers from other countries where there is a shortage, on the other hand you have Zimbabwean health workers who are basically unpaid, living in poverty and are looking for greener pastures,” Mabhena said, indicating that the workers were in a conundrum.
“When Zimbabwean health workers went on strike they were fired by the Zimbabwean government. A domestic worker in South Africa earns more than a medical professional in Zimbabwe, which is why there is this migration not only from medical workers but other professions leaving the economic crisis in Zimbabwe.”
Mabhena noted it was therefore disappointing that South Africa chose to decline applications of Zimbabwean health workers who want to work in Africa’s second largest economy.
“Health care workers are stranded. In our view, the South African government and SADC must be engaged on this because there’s a need to review this protocol. We can’t really enslave workers in Zimbabwe, to say they cannot look for greener pastures, it cannot work. It is critical that SADC reviews this protocol,” he said, highlighting that “the Zimbabwean government does not want to listen.”
“How do you fix this? When you demand a better wage from your employer ,who happens to be the government, you are donated to the opposition and accused of advancing the interests of the opposition. That is why we call for the adoption of rand, as a currency of reference so that in the immediate, we address these challenges.
“Therefore you are left with Zimbabwean health workers who will look for other alternatives under a situation where the government cannot pay its own workers.”
The migrant leader emphasised it was therefore important for SADC to review this protocol at the same time take care of the workers interests.
“We are in discussions with the trade unions in Zimbabwe, at the moment we have not really come up with an alternate view but engagements are ongoing. One other factor, we are saying is the Zimbabwean crisis must be placed back into SADC while reviewing these protocols,” he said.
“It cannot be correct that a person spends years studying medicine then earns less than a domestic worker in South Africa or Botswana earns. It’s also critical to say while we had a coup in 2017, it did not resolve the crisis of the working people in Zimbabwe.”
Mabhena clarified that they were not blaming South Africa, as the country was implementing the protocol but “the blame lies on the doorstep of the Zimbabwean government.”
“We have seen over these past few days when the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance (George Guvamatanga) held a bash in Harare celebrating his birthday, flashing monies, hiring expensive artists from Johannesburg to perform when people are going to bed on an empty stomach,” he said.